Putnam County firearm group again objects
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
When Philipstown’s Town Board last week resumed its push for a law requiring gun owners to lock up their firearms, gun-rights activists quickly fired back.
The board first tackled the issue last year. Supervisor Richard Shea announced the renewed efforts on Dec. 7 during the board’s formal monthly meeting.
According to the draft law, the Town Board “finds that firearms stored in the home should be kept locked or securely stored to prevent theft and/or access by children and others who should not” handle them.
In the fall of 2016, at the request of gun-control advocates, the board considered safe-storage legislation but shelved it after gun-rights advocates objected and instead proposed gun-safety programs for schools and Scout troops.
Upon learning of the board’s renewed interest, the Putnam County Firearm Owners Association encouraged members in an email to turn out for the Dec. 7 meeting at Town Hall and “pack it in our favor.”
Handgun License Deadline
Holders of state pistol permits issued before Jan. 15, 2013, must recertify with the New York State Police by Jan. 31 for a five-year renewal. Failing to recertify can lead to suspension or revocation of the license. See troopers.ny.gov/firearms.
The group expressed fears that if the Philipstown ordinance passes, the idea will “spread throughout the county like a cancer,” according to the email. The Firearm Owners Association belongs to the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association.
Most members of the audience remained silent and left en masse after the board introduced the draft ordinance but two residents stayed to criticize the proposed measure during the public-comment period.
Craig Watters of Garrison, who ran for a seat on the Town Board in 2015, and who opposes a safe-storage law as “an encroachment on freedoms,” said it “seems like activist legislation” being “railroaded” through.
Another Garrison resident, Eric Vogel, argued that “the only people it’s going to affect are responsible gun owners.”
Councilor John Van Tassel disagreed. “As a gun owner, I don’t see how it’s going to affect anybody” who acts sensibly, he said. “I’m not going to live with the fact that if something does happen and I had an opportunity to stop it, I did nothing. I don’t care if you sit on your couch and look like Rambo with a 50-caliber gun. But when you leave your house, lock up your 50-caliber.”
Gun Storage in Beacon
The Beacon City Council, by a 6-1 vote, approved a law in December 2016 that requires residents to keep loaded firearms in a “safe-storage depository” (gun safe) or to be equipped with a “gun-locking device” when children and teenagers 16 years or younger live in or are visiting a home.
The draft law stipulates that “no owner or custodian of a firearm shall leave” it “out of his or her immediate possession or control in a residence without” having given it to a responsible custodian, stored it in a locked container, or disabled it with a safety lock. Penalties for violating the law, a potential misdemeanor, could vary but might include a fine of up to $1,000, a year’s imprisonment in the county jail, or both.
Although council members conceded at the time that the law would be difficult to enforce, it calls for fines of up to $250 or jail time of up to 15 days for a first offense. An early draft of the law included a provision that would have allowed handgun bullets to be sold only to gun owners with a firearms license.
Shea observed that another school shooting had occurred earlier that day and that gun safety “is an issue that keeps coming up, over and over again. I own guns. I keep them locked, as a practice. It’s the responsible way to own a gun. I imagine most firearms owners in this room are already doing this sort of thing.”
Van Tassel explained that with a gun, “if you’re not in possession of it, you can’t be in control of it. It’s not going to help you and it’s not going to help anybody else. It’s only going to hurt someone.”
He called for a workshop to resolve a few questions, such as the definition of “direct possession.”
Councilor Nancy Montgomery said that despite the offer by gun owners last fall to work on gun-safety programs, nothing had happened and she now wants the Town Board to move forward on legislation. She said she hopes those on all sides of the issue can help craft “a good ordinance.”
Shea said board review of the issue would resume after the holidays and entail consultations with the village attorney; refinement of the law’s text; and public meetings, including a hearing at which “we will hear every person who wants to speak.”